Council Installs Metal Bars On Benches To Deter Rough Sleepers

A local council is under fire for its homelessness strategy once again after it adapted its town centre's benches with metal bars to stop rough sleepers from using them.

The Conservative-led Bournemouth Borough Council said it installed the bars after it received numerous complaints from businesses and members of the public about homeless people using them.

However, charities and local campaigners have condemned the council's intervention, calling the design of the bars 'hostile' and even accusing the council of being 'inhumane'.

Photos of the 'defensive architecture' have also been slammed by people on social media, with Facebook users calling the council 'spiteful' and 'heartless'.

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Bournemouth artist Stuart Semple made the issue public knowledge after he posted a picture of one of the benches on Facebook. According to Semple, around 20-30 seats across the town have been 'retrofitted' in this way.

He has now organised a flash mob next Monday to temporarily transform the benches into 'love benches' to send a message of inclusivity to the council.

"The second I saw it I knew exactly what it meant and I was really shocked and quite angry to see it in my home town," Mr Semple said to the Independent.

"This kind of hostile design is really wrong. Most people will just take these things for granted and walk past them but for a homeless person I think it would be deeply upsetting to see something like that.

"I really don't think we should be making those kind of statements in our towns and cities, we should be making inclusive places. Everybody is welcome."

Credit: Facebook / Stuart Semple
Credit: Facebook / Stuart Semple

Local homeless charities, such as soup kitchen Hope For Food, based in the seaside resort, has called the measure 'an utter waste of taxpayers' money'.

Representatives at the national homeless charity Crisis even added that the use of 'hostile architecture' and other anti-homeless measures amounts to a 'sad indictment' of how vulnerable people are treated.

"Rough sleeping is devastating enough without homeless people having to endure such hostility in their communities," said Matt Downie, Crisis' director of policy and external affairs.

"Rather than perpetuating people's homelessness, we need to address the root causes of rough sleeping to end it once and for all. We have evidence to show how the situation could be turned around, now is the time to act."

A spokesman for Bournemouth council said the council needed to maintain 'a careful balance' between its responsibility to the general public looking to use amenties like benches, and its duty of care to people rough sleeping.

"Changes were made to a small number of benches in very specific locations in the town centre several months ago, and only following numerous complaints by members of the public and local traders," the spokesman said.

"The complaints related to a number of the benches being unavailable to members of the public throughout the day due to people lying on them during the daytime."

According to the spokesman, the council also provides a 'wide range of services for homeless people', including 150 hostel beds and a 'rough sleeper assertive outreach team'.

Credit: BNPS
Credit: BNPS

This isn't the first time that Bournemouth council has faced criticism for its measures targeting the homeless. In the past these have included buying rough sleepers one-way tickets to leave the town and playing music to deter rough sleepers near the town's coach station.

Last week the council staunchly denied that its staff confiscated the sleeping bag of a homeless man named 'Kev' who was found dead in a local car park.

The council was believed responsible for the man's death after rumours circulated it had removed the man's belongings, with Twitter users calling the council's conduct tantamount to 'murder' or 'manslaughter'.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Chris Ogden

Chris Ogden is a journalist at LADbible. He graduated from the University of East Anglia with degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing before completing his NCTJ Diploma in Multimedia Journalism. Chris has previously written for the independent culture magazine The Skinny, among other publications.

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